Game Day Preview, #20 Boise State and Utah State Face Off with the Mountain Division in the Balance

Game Day Preview, #20 Boise State and Utah State Face Off with the Mountain Division in the Balance

Boise State

Game Day Preview, #20 Boise State and Utah State Face Off with the Mountain Division in the Balance

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Bronco Offense Update and Notables
The Bronco offense comes into this game averaging 454.8 yards per game, which has led to an average of 36.1 points per game. Those are definitely respectable numbers, but the bigger story for the Boise State offense is who is going to take the field at the quarterback position. The Broncos have had 4 different players throw a touchdown pass in 2019 and it is anyone’s guess who will be under center on Saturday when they take on the Aggies in Logan. 

1) George Holani, Freshman Running Back
The true freshman running back has proven that his 4 star ranking out of high school was well deserved. He leads the Broncos with 692 yards on 131 carries, good enough for 5.3 yards per carry and 5 touchdowns. Holani has also shown himself to be a capable receiver as he has 136 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year. The Broncos will look to get him going on Saturday to control the pace of the game and keep the Utah State offense off the field. 

2) Khalil Shakir, Sophomore Wide Receiver
How versatile is Shakir? He happens to be the only non-quarterback to throw a touchdown pass this season. In addition, he also has 44 receptions for 615 yards and 4 touchdowns, good for an average of 14 yards per catch. If that wasn’t enough he also has 11 rushing attempts for 49 yards and 2 more touchdowns. Shakir’s athletic and playmaking ability is unique and mostly unmatched in the Mountain West.

3) John Hightower, Senior Wide Receiver
Did someone say playmaking ability? Well, we better talk about John Hightower then. A combination of elite speed and solid size has continued to make him a nightmare matchup for Mountain West defenses. Through ten games he has 37 receptions for 754 yards and 6 touchdowns, good for a whopping 20.4 yards per catch. He has also proven to be elusive on the ground with 13 carries for 141 yards, good for 10.8 yards per carry. Look for him to stretch the Aggie defense on Saturday. 

Bronco Defense Update and Notables
The Broncos come into this contest as the 3rd best defensive unit in the Mountain West behind San Diego State and Air Force, giving up an average of just 338 yards per game. They are equally stingy against the pass and the run, giving up an average of 5.1 yards per play. The Broncos rank 2nd in the Mountain West in sacks with 29 on the year, just 1 behind Wyoming’s 30. This stat may prove significant on Saturday when the Boise State defense will work to corral Aggie quarterback Jordan Love. 

1) Sonatane Lui, Senior Defensive Tackle
Lui looks to keep his strong senior season going against the Aggies this weekend after recovering 2 fumbles against New Mexico and taking one of those back for a touchdown. He is a strong force at nose guard with 41 tackles on the year, 4 of those tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Getting pressure on Jordan Love will be a key for success for the Bronco defense.

2) Riley Whimpey, Junior Linebacker
When the Broncos lost their leading tackler in Ezekiel Noa for the season, they were not sure who would step up to fill his shoes. Whimpey has proven he is more than capable of shouldering that load with his team leading 55 tackles, 22 of those solo stops. The Utah State game is also personal for Riley as his both of his brothers were talented offensive linemen for the Aggies.  

3) Avery Williams, Junior Cornerback
In the upcoming matchup against the Aggies, the Boise State secondary will be thoroughly tested and will need to step up to the plate to earn a Broncos win. A major component of that secondary is junior cornerback Avery Williams. Williams has not had the same success as in previous seasons, so look for him and the rest of the secondary to have a chip on their shoulder against the Aggies. 

Aggies Offense Update and Notables
Utah State is the fourth best offense in the conference in yards per game (just behind Boise State), but red zone troubles and costly turnovers have the Aggies scoring a middling 28 points per game (7th in the Mountain West). Jordan Love has showcased the tools he used to propel this offense last season in short bursts but without the same supporting cast, Utah State’s quarterback has been asked to shoulder even more of the offensive load. With a possible concussion sidelining Love this weekend, Henry Colombi might be forced to step into his first career start in less than ideal circumstances.

1) Gerold Bright and Jaylen Warren, Running Backs
Bright leads the Aggies in rushing this year with 670 yards (5.1 yards per carry). Warren returns after missing time with an injury and has nearly caught up to Bright’s six touchdowns with five of his own.

2) Savon Scarver, Junior Wide Receiver/Return Specialist
Scarver is a unique weapon, moreso in the return game than as a receiver (although his straight line speed does open up big play opportunities once or twice a game). The 2018 All American is tied for first nationally in kickoff returns for touchdowns with two this year and ranks first in the Mountain West and sixth in the nation in kickoff return yards (29.8 yards per return).

3) Siaosi Mariner, Sophomore Wide Receiver
Mariner has come up huge for the Aggies in the last two weeks, posting back-to-back 100 yard games to help spark USU’s crucial season turnaround. Mariner leads the Aggies with 49 receptions for 753 yards (15.4 ypr/75.3 ypg) and seven touchdowns this season, ranked third in the Mountain West for receiving touchdowns.

Aggies Defense Update and Notables
Utah State’s defensive statistics across the board have been serviceable. The Aggies rank fifth in the conference in scoring defense (26.7 points allowed per game), passing efficiency defense (130.7), and in tackles for loss (5.4 per game). Utah State’s pass rush and ability to defend the run ranks closer to the middle of the pack, ranked seventh in sacks with 18 (1.80 per game) and eighth in rushing defense (180.0 yards allowed per game). Utah State’s defense does rank first in the Mountain West with 10 fumble recoveries (1.0 per game) and fourth down conversion percentage (26.7%).

1) Tipa Galeai, Senior Defensive End
Galeai has been asked to do some new things in a new defense, but still managed to tally his third sack of the year Saturday against Wyoming. The senior has six tackles for loss this season, and will be one of the premier players Utah State must have shine in order to stand up to Boise State’s offensive attack.

2) Eric Munoz, Redshirt Junior Linebacker
With Woodward out for the season, someone was bound to step up in the Aggie front seven. Enter Eric Munoz, who made his first career start last week against Wyoming and absolutely crushed it, posting a career high 13 tackles and two fourth quarter interceptions. The walk-on’s efforts were rewarded this week with a scholarship.

3) Shaq Bond, Junior Safety
Bond also came away from the Wyoming matchup with a big interception, setting up a first-half field goal for the Aggies. Bond has two picks this season and a defensive TD. 

Boise State Keys for a Victory
1) Find a consistent balance of run and pass
The Broncos were able to do this against a subpar New Mexico squad last week, but will need to continue their offensive dominance this week in Logan. Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Broncos, they will need to utilize their dangerous playmakers in Hightower and Shakir, while also finding some room for Holani to run. Not allowing the Aggie defense to settle in and get comfortable will go a long ways towards leaving Maverick Stadium with a victory. 

2) Protect the ball
This is a constant for any team in every game. The Broncos have made life harder for themselves than necessary in some of their closer matchups by failing to protect the ball. Mistakes will have to be limited against the Aggies on Saturday to finish the contest victorious. 

3) Stay disciplined on defense
In the Broncos only loss this season, they allowed themselves to get beat on a number of trick plays. The secondary will need to keep eyes on their coverage rather than allowing them to stray into the backfield, and trust their front seven to handle things around the line of scrimmage. The defense will have to remain disciplined as the Aggies will undoubtedly throw everything including the kitchen sink at the Broncos to try and crack their stout defense. 

4) Strong Offensive Line Play
This has been a surprising point of difficulty all season for the Broncos. A senior heavy unit, the offensive line was predicted to have an outstanding season. A combination of injuries and poor communication has led to struggles at times. Look for this unit to band together to open up holes and keep the quarterback upright to earn a victory in Logan on Saturday. 

Utah State Keys for a Victory
1) Don’t turn the ball over. Like, at all.
Whether it’s 70% of Love in at QB or 100% of Colombi, taking care of the football in this matchup is a prerequisite to winning. Utah State’s defense struggles enough without doing Boise State any favors. Throws need to be sharp, receivers need to be special and if a pass isn’t there just throw it away. Do you hear me, Colombi? If your man isn’t there don’t force a crazy pass, just live to fight another down.

2) Gerold Bright and Jaylen Warren net explosive plays
Both dangerous weapons on a good night, these guys can each turn a close game on its head. Games like this tend to get gritty after the opening round of scripted drives, and moving the chains on the ground is going to be the foundation of any success Utah State hopes to have.

3) Defensive play calling and execution of a proper pass rush
Even with back to back wins soothing the wounds suffered against Air Forceand BYU, the play calling on the defensive side of the ball this season seems to have hamstrung the Aggies significantly. Utah State has the athletes to pose problems for a QB — no matter which QB — but need to be put in a position to do so. The secondary has Shaq Bond patrolling the back end but not much else, so receivers are going to be open throughout the night. Turnovers and havoc plays will have to come from the edge, and considering this game’s as big as it gets for Utah State this year there’s no need to be shy about the playbook.

4) Eberle is gonna have to boot some field goals
Unless Utah State magically solves its red zone offense, Dominik Eberle is going to have to put points on the board. That hasn’t been much of an issue for him this season, but in pressure situations he’ll likely have to deliver at the end of halves and key drives that come up short to keep the Aggies competitive.

 

Predictions
Raja: Ah, Utah State week.  The Aggies are… they are irritating.  They are not a bad program and they did beat the Broncos in their house soundly a few years back but they are not in the same league as Boise State, and frankly it’s not particularly close.  If you were to refer to Utah State as Boise State’s little brother, it would be an insult to the Broncos. Before this season started we had to suffer through a heisman campaign propaganda for an Aggie and had several members of the media pick the Aggies to win the Mountain Division.  Well media folks, it is time to see the full might of the Broncos.

Whomever Boise State rolls out at quarterback, they will be ready to go and will have the tools available at his disposal to put up points versus the Aggies.  Utah State’s defense was only an average unit to begin with and the loss of David Woodward has made the Aggie defense susceptible to big plays. Look for Boise State to unleash their playbook and bring everything to this fight.  Listen, the Aggies are not a pushover but they are also not the equal of the Broncos. I have no inside information on the injured players for Boise State (especially their quarterbacks) but I believe that if they can go, they will play in this matchup.
Boise State 31, Utah State 20

Collin: It seems of late that this late season contest against the Aggies has been the deciding factor in who wins the Mountain Division, this year is no exception. Boise State will need to come in firing to start quickly and grind out a Division-clinching victory against Utah State. 

The Aggies have had an up and down season thus far, but are peaking at the right time. A lot of the Aggies’ success will be determined by if Jordan Love plays or has to sit out with an injury. The Broncos starter at quarterback is equally unknown, however both Chase Cord and Jaylon Henderson has proven capable backups in recent weeks. I believe (hope) fans will see Hank Bachmeier take the field on Saturday, as he has a certain level of toughness and moxy that inspires the team to a higher level of play. Following a solid defensive effort with multiple forced turnovers and a well-rounded offensive effort, the Aggies see another solid season end in disappointment at the hands of the Broncos.

Boise State 31, Utah State 13

Logan: Of course there are scenarios where Utah State pulls this off, and of course I’ll be rooting for every one of the guys in that locker room to rally and make this a statement win for what could’ve (should’ve?) been a down year.

That said, Utah State appears outmatched in this one. I’m a believer in Colombi’s potential and Mariner is a star, but with Love’s status questionable there’s just no counting on the offense to maintain any sort of consistent rhythm. Even more importantly, the Aggie defense hasn’t contained a good offense all season. Utah State’s biggest wins this year were made possible at least in part by bad offenses (which Boise doesn’t have) and awful decisions by opposing coaches (which Harsin won’t make). That’s not to take anything away from those wins, it only proves what I suspected from the season’s outset: Utah State is talented and dangerous to 90% of the conference, but has not put itself in a position to be Boise’s equal this year.
Boise State 35, Utah State 27

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